Hong Kongers Protest Beijing’s Manipulation of Election

March 5, 2012 Updated: October 1, 2015
Protesters in Hong Kong
Protesters march to voice their dissatisfaction with the territory's leader, Chief Executive Donald Tsang, in Hong Kong on March 3, 2012. They also called for direct elections in the southern Chinese territory ahead of elections on March 25. Tsang, whose term is up in June, agreed on March 1 to cooperate with an investigation into his alleged ties to rich tycoons, after revelations of his jaunts on private jets and yachts, and denied he had breached bribery laws. (Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images)

Hong Kong is getting ready to elect a new chief executive, and scandals and protests are erupting amid fears that this election will lead to a Communist Party member ruling the special administrative region.

Thousands of people took to the streets on March 3 to demand universal suffrage, protest the choice of the next chief executive through a “small-circle election,” and criticize the current chief executive, Donald Tsang, for corruption.

In the elections for chief executive on March 25, only 1,200 out of 7 million Hong Kong residents will be eligible to cast a vote—thus, the term small-circle election.

In the past, the elections have been under Beijing’s smooth control. However, this year, the two front-runners, Leung Chun-ying and Henry Tang Ying-yen, both backed by Beijing and both independently wealthy, are in an intense fight to compete for votes. There has been some mudslinging.

Leung, born in Hong Kong by parents who fled China after the communist takeover, has been criticized for failing to properly declare a conflict of interest in an urban construction plan a decade ago.

Tang, a second-generation Hong Konger, has been accused of several alleged episodes of adultery and is said to have added a 2,000-square-foot basement under one of his houses without a permit.

According to a Feb. 27 report by Hong Kong’s Apple Daily, Leung was appointed to key positions by Beijing prior to Hong Kong’s handover to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1997. The Taipei Times quotes the historian of the Communist Party Paul Lin as saying Leung was an underground member of the CCP and well trusted by Beijing. Leung denies he is a Communist Party member.

In 1987 Leung was appointed general secretary of the Basic Law Consultative Committee, the body charged with developing the constitution that would rule Hong Kong after it became a special administrative region of the PRC.

The historian of Hong Kong’s efforts to achieve democracy, Suzanne Peppers, asserts on her blog that Leung “earned the enmity of democracy activists” during the period of 1993–1997 as he implemented Beijing’s plan to dismantle democratic reforms being put in place by London prior to the handover.

Apple Daily said the traditional leftwing believes they must support one of their own people, Leung, to be the next chief executive.

Should Leung be elected, the days of Hong Kong being ruled by the Communist Party will come early, and the most obvious problem will be that Hong Kong will be growing further away from the capitalist international community, political commentator Willy Lam told Radio France Internationale.

Demand for Universal Suffrage

The march and rally on March 3 was staged by the Hong Kong Civil Human Rights Front. The event opened with a gathering in Victoria Park, which drew thousands of participants from different political parties as well as religious and civil groups.

After the rally, they marched to the central government offices, carrying a huge black banner symbolizing the dark curtain from behind which the CCP manipulates the chief executive election. Protesters shouted: “Down with Donald Tsang!” and “End the Small-Circle Elections!”

According to the organizers, 5,300 people showed up to support the protest.

Lai Yan Ho, the spokesman for the Civil Human Rights Front, said the 1,200 people in the Election Committee who are eligible to vote are merely “rubber stamps” for the CCP and various interest groups.

“We are furious that there is still no universal suffrage after 20 years of democratic movements. We don’t want a CCP-handpicked candidate; we want to regain the initiative for Hong Kong people to dictate their own political system. We want universal suffrage,” Lai said.

Tam Chun Yin, organizing secretary of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, explained why they used a black banner. “The entire Hong Kong area has become very dark; especially with Donald Tsang’s corruption, Hong Kong has become a special dark district,” Tam said.

“Hong Kong’s current political system allows these business groups to take control by functional constituency and small-circle elections. We are very afraid that mainland China’s corruption will be transferred to Hong Kong,” Tam said during the rally.

Functional constituencies are a form of representation in which each profession or interest group is allowed to choose its own representatives. Critics say that, besides severely limiting the franchise, the practice of using functional constituencies gives Beijing the opportunity to control the election from behind the scenes.

Protesters said that unless the government responds quickly to their demands, they would hold a larger demonstration on March 25, the day of the chief executive election.

Corruption Investigation

Donald Tsang, the sitting chief executive made a public apology on March 1 for accepting “luxury hospitality” from tycoons.

Tsang has been accused of receiving kickbacks from powerful tycoons with commercial interest in Hong Kong, including Wong Cho Bau and Zhang Songqiao, in the form of luxury holidays and accommodation arrangements.

Wong is the chairman of the East Pacific property group and a major investor in Digital Broadcasting Corporation. Zhang owns and operates the Western Harbour Tunnel and Tate’s Cairn Tunnel in Hong Kong.

On Feb. 29, Hong Kong’s anti-corruption bureau started an investigation, the first ever of a chief executive, into his overseas trips on yachts and jets belonging to wealthy businessmen.

In the wake of denouncements and protests from the public, Tsang appeared in a special question and answer session of the Legislative Council on March 1, where he apologized for having accepted “luxury hospitality.” He also said he would give up an apartment he had been leasing in a Shenzhen mansion owned by tycoon Wong.

However, Tsang stated the friendship between him and the two tycoons is “normal,” and they have no relationship “beyond friendship.”

He also denied that he had recommended tycoon Zhang for membership in the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, as well as rumors of being on Zhang’s private yacht twice a month over the past few years.

He said flying in Zhang’s private jet is no conflict of interest, because they are friends, and besides, the Executive Council normally does not require an official to declare hospitality from friends.

Tsang admitted he had failed to realize that the people’s standards for public officials have become higher over time. But he said he would not take a leave while being investigated by the Independent Commission Against Corruption.